How often do you get to spend a beautiful Florida day on the ocean with one of your heroes? Whatever that probability is, divide it by three and that’s the day I just got to enjoy just off the coast of West Palm Beach. But business before pleasure, as they say, so let me begin with the work part of the trip.
I was the guest of Robert Platshorn, aka “Bobby Tuna.” If you don’t know, Bobby is America’s longest incarcerated non-violent marijuana prisoner who served 30 years in federal prison for smuggling in most of the good weed you (or your parents) smoked in the late 1970s. You can learn all about it in his memoir, The Black Tuna Diaries, and check out the documentary Square Grouper (the term for a bale of pot floating in the ocean when a smuggler fleeing law enforcement dumps it) that tells his tale.
I and my colleague in marijuana radio activism, Chris Goldstein, were two of the first activists Bobby met when he got out of prison in 2009. We both encouraged him to put his pitchman background and incomparable story to work in helping legalize marijuana nationwide. In just five short years, Bobby’s become one of the leading marijuana educators and the prime conduit for energizing the senior vote through his Silver Tour activism and the infomercial “Should Grandma Smoke Pot?” that he’s aired all across the country. I was there in Fort Lauderdale this Saturday to participate in his second sold-out “Meet the Experts” conference to prepare Floridians for the inevitable passage of a medical marijuana amendment this November.
One of many experts Bobby flew in was Major Neill Franklin, the executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). The loudest voices against medical marijuana in Florida come from current law enforcement and Major Franklin explained how that was just cops defending their funding from asset forfeiture and federal drug war grants. Bobby mentioned how Major Franklin is the only cop he’s ever been happy to have been grabbed by; I shared how he gave me a ride once to the Minneapolis airport and how I told him twenty years earlier, I wouldn’t have been as happy to be in his car. [Watch my interview with Major Franklin here].
Irv Rosenfeld made his way up to speak, sign his book “My Medicine”, and show off his tin of government weed. Rosenfeld, of course, is one of the four remaining federal medical marijuana patients, legal in all fifty states and entitled to smoke it in all of them. While I’ve seen his medical marijuana tins before, I’d never seen one packed with government joints. There were nine-and-a-half ounces rolled into 300 joints. The label declared them “medium potency” and showed that they were harvested from a batch in January 2009. See, government weed is not manicured -- they just throw the whole plant into a grinder and roll it up, then freeze-dry it for storage until it is needed.
Mike Boutin was also there. You remember him as the grower who starred in the Discovery Channel series “Weed Country.” He explained to the conference some of the ins and outs of the marijuana growing business from both a cultivation and a cultural point of view. [Watch my interview with Mike Boutin].
The seminar was wonderful and everyone in attendance got much more than they expected, between the expert knowledge delivered throughout the day to the critical networking opportunities in this rapidly developing field. I’ll have audio recordings of all the presentations up for on-demand download this week at http://420RADIO.org/shows/420.
That was Saturday -- a full workday that stretched from 8am to 8pm. Fast-forward to today, Monday, and those of us still in town (Major Franklin had to scram) were invited by Bobby to Riviera Beach Marina and a fishing excursion on the boat “Right Hook.” I got to head out on the ocean with Bobby, Irv and Mike, as well as a few other guys from the conference. What a thrill to just hang out with three of my marijuana heroes! We managed to land quite a few fish, mostly yellowtail.
Bobby, the old pro, hung out toward the stern and brought in fish after fish. Irv and I sat on a bench bringing in maybe three fish apiece -- Irv’s condition made it a somewhat difficult to reel in a catch and me, I’m just a lousy fisherman. Mike picked up the skill right away and probably caught the most fish of the day. All the while, we’re making great conversation -- Irv’s talking about how he’s never allowed to testify at federal trials of people busted for state-legal dispensaries. “They won’t let me,” he explained, “because at the federal level there is no such thing as medical marijuana. That’s ridiculous! If you’re following state law, how can it be justice to not allow testimony to that fact?”
Mike nodded and made an illuminating comparison of how courts treat crimes that are matters of fact versus how they treat medical marijuana. “If I got back to Sacramento and cops were waiting there to charge me with a murder in Sacramento that happened on Saturday,” he said, “the courts would dismiss the charges because we could show plenty of proof I was here in Florida. But if they charge me with growing a Schedule I drug, I’m not allowed to show plenty of proof that I was following state laws and cannabis doesn’t belong in Schedule I?”
The day was breezy and the water was a gorgeous shade of blue. A sea turtle swam alongside the boat for a while, enjoying the occasional bits of chum we were dropping into the water. One persistent seagull rode the winds to coast over our boat. The sun beat down on my pale Pacific Northwest skin as I fought to reel in a big flat fish. A tiny bit of seasickness vanished once I availed myself of the nearest nausea remedy. Four hours later, our guide had filleted the fish and I was driving back to my friend’s home in Miami, eager for the dinner she’d be making from my fresh catch.
Marijuana activism… the pay sucks, but the fringe benefits can be awesome!
"Radical" Russ Belville is the host of The Russ Belville Show.